Big Orange Pantry Provides Student Support

BOPA growing concern in public higher education relates to meeting students’ basic needs, including food and housing insecurities. According to a study coauthored by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and published in Current Developments in Nutrition (2019), one in three students in the southeastern and Appalachian regions are food-insecure, which is higher than the national average.

Researchers found that food insecurity has an average prevalence of 30.5 percent among college students who responded to online surveys at 10 four-year universities in the Southern Appalachia region, which includes Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. In comparison, the national average of college students that face food insecurity is approximately 12 percent. At some campuses surveyed, food insecurity levels were as high as 51.8 percent.

“We found that students who are food insecure had lower academic grades than those who did not face food insecurity,” says Marsha Spence, UT professor of public health nutrition and coauthor of the study. “These same students usually try to save money on other things to obtain food, such as spending less in transportation, utilities, and sometimes even medication.”

According to the study, several factors can predict food insecurity status: being a junior or a sophomore, having an ethnic minority background, receiving financial aid, and having reported poor health indicated a higher risk of food insecurity.

“This study is part of a growing body of evidence that suggests that a large percentage of college students, including students from four-year public institutions, are at risk of food insecurity,” said coauthor Elizabeth Anderson Steeves, professor in UT’s Department of Nutrition. “Studies like ours are important to understand food insecurity and its negative effects on students, so that universities can implement policies and programs to help alleviate this problem and help students succeed.”

Since food insecurity translates into poor academic performance and unhealthy spending habits and coping mechanisms, this growing problem is a student success issue that must be addressed through coordinated, sustainable solutions. 

Enter the Big Orange Food Pantry. In October 2020, UT opened the on-campus food pantry with a mission to provide emergency food assistance and other essentials for members of our university community. Alumni, faculty, staff, and students from departments and colleges across campus collaborated to open the pantry and support UT community members experiencing hunger. 

“The pantry has an enormous amount of potential for unifying the anti-hunger movement at UT. I envision it being completely destigmatized and normalized for use at any time,” Anderson said. “Getting food support shouldn’t be something students feel alienated about, and this will be available as they work hard to obtain higher education.”

For more information on Big Orange Pantry and other support services, or to donate, visit